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Virgin and Martyr (entered heaven in 304)
I can almost touch your excitement – even so far away! I am happy for you. With graduation only a couple months away, and your first job waiting for you with open arms (as you know, I had no doubt that you would get the offer; if you had trusted your uncle you would have saved yourself plenty of anxiety), it’s only natural for your heart to feel “full of sunlight”, even though the sky is “dreary with clouds”, as you poetically put it in your note. Without wanting to rain on your parade, however, I feel a certain obligation to remind you of something. But first, let me put you in the right frame of mind to listen to the reminder. That I will do by telling you about today’s saint.
Victoria was probably about your age when her life faced its second great crisis, which caused her as much joy as the news of your job offer caused you. Her first crisis had come when she was just a teenager. As a young girl, she had converted to the Christian faith, much to the chagrin of her pagan family (she lived in northern Africa, where the oft-persecuted Church was strong, but not by any means dominant). In fact, she fell so in love with Christ, that she desired to give her whole life up to him, and made a vow of virginity. This eventually turned her parents’ chagrin into rage, as they had arranged a profitable and honorable marriage for their only daughter. They would hear nothing of her refusals, and forced her to go through with the marriage against her will. When the wedding day came, however, she put her trust completely in Jesus, and instead of going downstairs to be received by her husband, she leapt from the upper story window with a prayer and a look to heaven. Landing safely, she fled to a nearby church and gave herself up to serving Jesus and his Kingdom. That was crisis number one.
Number two came one Sunday morning some years later, when a platoon of imperial soldiers burst in on her and a group of fifty Christians who had just been attending Mass celebrated in a private home. They were all arrested and sent to Carthage for trial in front of the imperial Proconsul (Diocletian had outlawed Christian worship – he wanted to get the Christians back into the fold of Roman pagan religion). The priest Saturninus, the Senator Dativus, Victoria, and a host of companions of every age and both sexes boldly stood trial, professing their faith courageously and eloquently in the face of torture (being stretched on the rack, torn with iron hooks, and beaten with cudgels).
Victoria especially impressed both the public and the judges. Her brother (still a pagan) actually attended the trial and pleaded her release on the grounds of insanity, but she debated so cogently with the judge that she disproved the charge. The Proconsul was so taken with her that when his arguments and cajoleries failed to budge her fidelity, he stepped down from his judgment seat, removed his garment of office, and pleaded with her merely as a friend not to throw her life away. She responded, “I have already told you. I am a Christian. And I attended the Mass.”
Eventually, all the Christians having firmly held their faith, the authorities lost patience and threw them all into prison, where one by one, through long hours and days of suffering born with love, they entered into the joy of the Lord.
So that’s the context. Now for the reminder: the start of your professional life will be full of excitement and invigorating challenges, but it will also be full of temptations. And the first temptation will be, without a doubt, to cut corners on the time you spend with God. Within the first six weeks at your new post, you will just as many times be induced to skip Sunday Mass. I can almost guarantee it. There will be so much work at the firm, and you will be so eager to show how talented you are (with reason), and everyone else will be working incredible hours… And the devil will make his subtle invitations sound so reasonable.
I suggest that you decide NOW, while the joy of the new horizon is still fresh, what you will do when that temptation comes. And as you decide, why not keep in mind Victoria’s answer to her judge’s question about how they dared to hold their assembly even against the imperial edict: “The obligation of the Sunday is indispensable. It is not lawful for us to omit the duty of that day. We celebrated it as well as we could. We never passed a Sunday without meeting at our assembly. We will keep the commandments of God at the expense of our lives.”
Your loving uncle,